Video Conferencing in the Classroom: Smart Ways to Make Use of Tech in Education

Video conferencing in the classroom can enhance learning

By guest author Kelly Kincaid

It’s September. You just opened up a big box of tablets for your classroom. Now what? If you don’t speak digital and you’re struggling with how to integrate technology into your tried and true pedagogy, you’re not alone. It’s tricky to distinguish between tech-as-a-tool and tech-as-a-distraction. And some educators argue that implementing technology use for technology’s sake is having a detrimental effect on learning.

Let’s not put the box on the proverbial curb, however. Education advocate and author Byron Garrett writes that, “We need to embrace technology–but we also have to use it in innovative ways. Giving a student an iPad is not, in and of itself, going to significantly enhance their learning experience. We don’t get quantifiable results just by having technology, that’s a result of how we use it.”

Research shows that properly implemented technology allows for differentiated instruction and a flexible learning environment, providing different avenues for students to learn and access information in enjoyable, engaging ways. One of these ways is video conferencing in the classroom. 

So yes, there are a host of potential benefits in the balance. But no need to get overwhelmed. Let’s tap into the possibilities one step at a time.

Bringing Tech into the Curriculum

With technology, you’ve got a new resource to call upon. So get ready to think beyond the worksheet (even the digital worksheet) and develop some 21st century active learners. 

As you complete your Common Core lesson plans and identify activities and tasks that support learning targets, consider where there are opportunities to thoughtfully integrate technology-enabled learning. With all kinds of ways to get your digital feet wet, it doesn’t have to be complicated to have an impact:

  • Talk about digital citizenship.
  • Append lessons with free digital resources from reputable organizations.
  • Use podcasts or short videos as lesson foundations for small group discussion and response.
  • Encourage questions or discussions via chat, email, or social media.
  • Set up a class blog for students to post creative or expository writing and receive feedback.
  • Have students plan, record, assess and then re-record video presentations (building self-regulation and metacognition).

The examples above, of course, can all be structured by you. But how about inviting the world into your classroom by engaging the community? Sure, it’s a little messier and more difficult to predict outcomes. But, as ed-tech coordinator at Wilson High School Edward Steinhauser asserts, video conferencing for the classroom can “create authentic, real-world situations for your students.”

Video Conferencing in the Classroom

Start with subject matter experts in your extended circle–whether they are mechanics, farmers, professors, engineers, artists, or writers, they can all contribute to a lesson. Draw on local organizations as well, such as businesses, nonprofits, factories and museums–it’s all fair game. Don’t forget about political offices. Reach out to potential contributors via social media and encourage them to participate in a live video conference. The key is to create a space for open dialogue. In a classroom, video conferencing can help kids learn in many ways, letting students:

  • Become global citizens. To foster global empathy, listening, critical thinking, and reflection, look to bring diverse perspectives into your classroom. Sites such as Global SchoolNet host worldwide communities of students and teachers you can tap into. Or, consider reaching out to international education organizations based in the United States, such as the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX).
  • Build unexpected friendships. Enriching interactions don’t just come from crossing borders. Connect with other schools in your area in a way that will enhance learning in both classrooms. Try using Twitter to locate classrooms to partner with by searching using hashtags (such as #tlap, #edchat, #secondgrade). And consider partnering across demographic groups within your own school district.
  • Video conference with families. Real-world learning might also involve bringing a student’s family or support system into the learning process. Maybe that involves project-based activities, such as having kids get feedback on their video presentations from home. Better yet, it could be recurring, such as sending families a link to a weekly review in a video format or even daily topics for at-home discussion. Believe me, busy parents will thank you for providing easy-to-access insight into their child’s day. And parent-teacher conferences that can’t be in-person can still be face to face.

And these activities are just the tip of the iceberg. Some schools are already using video conferencing to let kids interact with scientists via the program Skype a Scientist, and other classrooms are going on virtual farm field trips. So, are you ready for the new school year? Yeah, no one is. But it’s here, regardless–so line up those classroom video conferencing partners and let’s make it a good one!

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